On the Beach | Study Guide

Nevil Shute

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On the Beach | Chapter Summaries

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Timeline of Events

  • May 1961

    Six months before World War III, Peter and Mary Holmes are married.

    Chapter 1
  • November 1961

    World War III breaks out—a nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere lasting 37 days.

    Chapter 1
  • December 1961

    The short war ends, and all communication from the Northern Hemisphere falls silent.

    Chapter 1
  • December 1961

    The American submarine USS Scorpion, now under Australian command, docks in Melbourne.

    Chapter 1
  • 1961–62

    Wind currents begin carrying radioactive dust into the Southern Hemisphere.

    Chapter 1
  • December 27, 1962

    Two days after Christmas, Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes reports for duty.

    Chapter 1
  • Later that day

    Peter accepts a new post as liaison officer to Dwight Towers, commander of the Scorpion.

    Chapter 1
  • December 29, 1962

    At a weekend party, a platonic romance begins between Dwight Towers and Moira Davidson.

    Chapter 1
  • The next day

    Research scientist John Osborne joins the Scorpion team in preparation for their upcoming mission.

    Chapter 2
  • January 7, 1963

    Scorpion cruises to ports Cairns, Darwin, and Port Moresby, seeking signs of life.

    Chapter 3
  • Eleven days later

    Scorpion returns to home port having sighted nothing alive except a dog on the wharf at Cairns.

    Chapter 3
  • End of January 1963

    Random radio signals from North America are traced to a naval radio installation near Seattle.

    Chapter 4
  • End of March 1963

    A new assignment sends the Scorpion to cruise the West Coast of North America as far as Seattle.

    Chapter 5
  • End of April 1963

    Investigation of the naval installation reveals the signals are a fluke; no one has survived.

    Chapter 6
  • Late May 1963

    Scorpion returns to port after affirming radiation levels in the Northern Hemisphere remain lethal.

    Chapter 6
  • Early August 1963

    Communication throughout much of the Southern Hemisphere has gone silent.

    Chapter 8
  • Mid-August, 1963

    Only a week or two remain before radiation will sicken and kill the people of Melbourne.

    Chapter 8
  • Final days—early evening

    Sick and weak, John Osborne chooses to die seated behind the wheel of his prizewinning Ferrari.

    Chapter 9
  • Final days—next afternoon

    Peter and Mary Holmes die together at home with their baby daughter, Jennifer.

    Chapter 9
  • Final days—early morning

    Dwight Towers scuttles the Scorpion, going down with her; Moira Davidson dies watching from shore.

    Chapter 9

Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Chapter 1 The first chapter is preceded by an epigraph consisting of lines taken from the last two stanzas of the poem "The Holl... Read More
Chapter 2 Early the next morning, Peter visits the farmer, Mr. Paul, to see that Mary gets milk and cream regularly while he is at... Read More
Chapter 3 After nine days spent scouting the northern coasts of Australia and nearby islands, Scorpion is back in safe waters and ... Read More
Chapter 4 Dwight and Moira stay overnight at Peter and Mary's home. The next morning, Dwight prepares to go to church, and Moira a... Read More
Chapter 5 Mary is delighted with Peter's choice of playpen for Jennifer. Her only concern is that the baby will use the bars to st... Read More
Chapter 6 Fifteen days into her cruise, Scorpion is 30 degrees south of the equator. She submerges and, ten days later, approaches... Read More
Chapter 7 Maybe two or three months remain before radiation sickness hits Melbourne. Peter agrees to stay on as liaison officer wh... Read More
Chapter 8 On the first day of August, only one thing is troubling Mary: Jennifer is cutting her first tooth. Aside from that, her ... Read More
Chapter 9 On Tuesday morning, for the first time, radio reports acknowledge that radiation sickness has reached Melbourne. Even so... Read More
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